Zaandam, the Netherlands - Ahold today announced consolidated net sales of €8.1 billion for the fourth quarter of 2014, an increase of 7.9% compared to the fourth quarter of 2013. At constant exchange rates net sales were up 2.6%.
For the full year 2014, consolidated net sales were €32.8 billion, an increase of 0.5% compared to 2013. At constant exchange rates net sales were up 0.8%.
In the United States, we were pleased with the progress of our program to improve our customer proposition, which was deployed to 523 stores by the end of the year. Identical sales excluding gasoline increased 0.3%, compared to -2.0% last year and -0.2% in the previous quarter (adjusted for the market disruption in New England). Net sales were down 0.5% in the fourth quarter reflecting lower gas sales due to significant price deflation. Market share for the fourth quarter and for the full year was down slightly, mainly related to Giant Landover. Investments in our customer proposition continue to be largely funded by cost reductions from our Simplicity program and we expect underlying operating margin for the fourth quarter to be broadly in line with the previous quarter.
In the Netherlands, our sales performance significantly improved with net sales up 4.5% in the fourth quarter, driven by identical sales growth of 2.2% and by further extending Albert Heijn’s network in the Netherlands and Belgium. Sales in the quarter reflect a strong holiday performance from Albert Heijn stores and our online businesses Albert Heijn Online and bol.com. Consequently for the fourth quarter, market share at Albert Heijn increased compared to last year, while for the full year, market share improved slightly. Partially due to increased promotional activity, we expect the underlying operating margin in the Netherlands for the fourth quarter to be slightly lower than the previous quarter.
In the Czech Republic, the integration of the SPAR stores is well underway, resulting in net sales growth of 32.6%. The underlying operating margin will be impacted by the consolidation of the SPAR stores, as mentioned in our previous outlook.
We expect our free cash flow for the year to be higher than guided in our previous outlook.
This press release includes forward-looking statements, which do not refer to historical facts but refer to expectations based on management's current views and assumptions and involve known and unknown risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results, performance or events to differ materially from those included in such statements. These forward-looking statements include, but are not limited to, statements as to underlying operating margins, investments and progress to improve customer proposition in the United States, the integration of the SPAR stores and Ahold's free cash flow. These forward-looking statements are subject to risks, uncertainties and other factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from future results expressed or implied by the forward-looking statements. Many of these risks and uncertainties relate to factors that are beyond Ahold’s ability to control or estimate precisely, such as the effect of general economic or political conditions, fluctuations in exchange rates or interest rates, increases or changes in competition, Ahold’s ability to implement and complete successfully its plans and strategies, the benefits from and resources generated by Ahold’s plans and strategies being less than or different from those anticipated, changes in Ahold’s liquidity needs, the actions of competitors and third parties and other factors discussed in Ahold’s public filings and other disclosures. Readers are cautioned not to place undue reliance on these forward-looking statements, which speak only as of the date of this press release. Ahold does not assume any obligation to update any public information or forward-looking statements in this press release to reflect subsequent events or circumstances, except as may be required by applicable laws. Outside the Netherlands, Koninklijke Ahold N.V., being its registered name, presents itself under the name of “Royal Ahold” or simply “Ahold”.